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CONSULTATIVE SELLING: WHAT ABOUT 360 DEGREE FEEDBACK?

Last week’s blog (scroll below) examined feedback— and suggested that the consultative salesperson use it “bi-directionally.”  Whenever appropriate, voluntarily play back to the client our understanding of what he/she is saying (especially, apparent needs) and also ask our clients to play back their understanding of what we’re saying (especially, ideas and recommendations).  Our goal: preclude potential misunderstandings— an obvious benefit to all.  This starts to sound like “360 degree feedback”; should we really go that far?

Broadly defined, 3600 feedback is a mutual exchange of comments, suggestions and improvement opportunities between individuals or groups; frequently, it replaces one-way evaluations of subordinates by their bosses in corporate personnel management settings.

When the 3600 feedback concept is applied to client/sales team situations, an excellent process technique is the “Keep/Stop/Start” exercise— a mainstay of idea-generation and problem-solving projects.  Here, everyone contributes to a listing of productive practices already being done (the “Keeps”);  unproductive practices currently being done (the “Stops”);  and potentially productive practices not now being done (the “Starts”).  It’s a democratic, creative and non-threatening way for groups to move forward synergistically.

  • Since K/S/S focuses on actions, policies, behaviors and their business consequences, it leaves individual conflicts— personality traits, presumed attitudes, etc.— out of the discussion.  Finger-pointing kills 360 degree feedback!  Further, K/S/S is always mutually “solicited feedback,” rather than unexpected, unwelcome suggested changes and criticisms.

It’s important to note that 3600 feedback can be implemented at different levels of frequency and formality— matching the needs and comfort requirements of the client team and sales team members:

1.   The consultative salesperson casually, informally offers ad hoc playback and requests client feedback, as necessary, to assure mutual understanding.  If the salesperson calls attention to the process, purpose and value of 3600 feedback, the client may volunteer her/his constructive feedback more readily.  (Otherwise, it’s mostly salesperson-driven, and “not very 360.”)

2.   The client team and sales team agree to routinely operate in “3600 feedback mode,” a way of doing business which happens often, is still informal, impromptu, and “unofficial”— but is much more a shared, joint-team process and policy.

3.   The 3600 feedback process becomes formal and official:  scheduled, systematic mutual evaluations, which may include a prescribed format and may be documented “for the record.”  If we choose this level, we should routinely be sharing informal 3600 feedback along the way, too.  (Our willingness to recommend this level signals our confidence, professionalism and commitment to providing excellent client service— and invites the client to reciprocate.)

The bottom line:  Remember that 360 degree feedback is a team effort— a collegial, supportive, pragmatic dialog, whose end objective is better, more successful business practices and results for the client and consultative sales team alike.  It must be designed and conducted to be comfortable for everybody involved, so that they’ll accept (and even enjoy?) the process.  How might the 3600 feedback concept work for your sales team?

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